The 11 Ingredients of a Sizzling Book Description

5 Oct

Good morning from France! I have finally made it here and not only that, but I also managed to fit 25 books—including several hardbacks—between my checked and carry-on luggage and didn’t get charged a cent in excess weight for them. (The Aer Lingus luggage limit is 20kg per passenger excluding carry-on. My bag was 19.9kg and evidently nobody noticed that I was struggling to pick my carry-on up off the ground.)

Such is traveling when you’re still holding out on buying a Kindle and the selection and cost of English books out here is ridiculous.

But anyway. I have sunshine, reading material, a Nespresso machine and time to write—I mean, really? What more could a girl want?

Mark Edward’s Kindle sales would be nice. Setting up camp on the #1 spot on Amazon.co.uk bagged Mark and his writing partner Louise Voss what was reportedly a six-figure publishing deal, and their success was all the more amazing because it happened in a very short space of time. So what did Mark do that the rest of us didn’t or don’t? Well, besides writing some riveting thrillers, he continuously worked on his product descriptions (the “blurb” that appears on your Amazon page), redrafting and tweaking them until they were just right, watching his sales data to see how his changes affected Amazon customers’ decision to buy. 

Today Mark is going to share with us the 11 ingredients of a sizzling book description, which I have to say is the first guest post I’ve been sent that made me want not to post it but to keep all this to myself… But of course, that would be mean and I strive to be lovely (!) so here it is:

There are only three things you need to do to become a multi-platinum, world-conquering ebook tycoon with a fleet of yachts and sales figures that would make James Patterson spit with envy:

  1. Get people to look at your book page
  2. Convert them into a paying customer
  3. Keep them coming back for more

Yep, that’s all you have to do!

There is no magic formula for making this happen. But you can give yourself a much better chance of breaking into the upper reaches of the Kindle chart by making sure you get the important things right. One of the most vital of these is your book description – which comes under the conversion point above. When you have that potential reader on your page, their mouse hovering tantalizingly-close to that ‘Buy’ button, they will be looking at a few elements: the cover, the reviews, the sample…and the description.

If your book description doesn’t grab them and make them feel ‘the need – the need to read’ then you’ve just lost a customer. When my co-written book, Killing Cupid, was stuck just outside the top 100 last year, I couldn’t work out why it was selling fewer than some of the books above it. At that time, Amazon used to handily give you the percentage of page viewers who bought the book. Killing Cupid’s conversion rate was relatively weak. The reviews were good, the cover was strong – so was it the description?

I spent days studying and analyzing the books with higher conversion rates. What was it about their descriptions that made them sell more? Once I’d come up with some theories I put them to the test, re-writing the description.

Sales doubled within an hour.

A couple of weeks later, the book was No.2 on Amazon.  The conversion rate from visitor to sale was much higher. All was right with the world.

I’ve spent a long time studying descriptions, and am also a trained marketing copywriter. I am now available for hire to write or critique book descriptions. But if you want to do it yourself, here are my 11 ingredients that will make that blurb sizzle.

  1. Make it clear. Your potential reader needs to know with a quick skim read what kind of book this is, what it’s about and what the story is. The story is the most important element here – if you’ve written an erotic romance that will give Fifty Shades a run for its money, make sure people know that.  Though remember, it’s the relationship at the heart of Fifty Shades that made it such a smash. You need to get that across in a very lucid way.
  2. Write in your genre.  There are certain rules that apply to every genre. Find some popular books in your genre and study the description. The backs of paperbacks can be better to study than self-published books, and first novels that were big hits are the best of all.
  3. Don’t be afraid to reference other books or writers. Your potential readers are looking for hooks that will tell them quickly what kind of book this is. If you’ve written a grown-up vampire novel you could do a lot worse than say that it’s for fans of Anne Rice.
  4. The book is more important than you. There can be a temptation to boast about your own achievements or credentials. Unless you’re an Olympic coach and you’ve written a guide to strength training, readers won’t care. Most of them won’t even notice or remember who wrote it.
  5. The first line is the most important. If you don’t get the first line right, they won’t read on (this applies to the book itself too). Your first line needs to encapsulate the whole book. It needs to draw people in, hit them where it feels good and make the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. Not easy – but worth spending time on.
  6. It should be as long as it needs to be. There is no hard-and-fast rule about length. Maybe you can summarise your mieisterwerk in a few sentences. Maybe you need to write four paragraphs to really draw people in and get them involved. Size doesn’t matter. That’s what my girlfriend tells me anyway.
  7. Don’t be boring. The moment your potential reader feels bored, they’re gone, clicking on to the next book on the also-bought bar. Every line has to be compelling and move the story on. Just like your book, in fact.
  8. Make them laugh, cry, cower. It’s all about emotions. How is your book going to make people feel? Is it heartbreaking or hilarious? Chilling or hotter than Angelina Jolie sunbathing in Death Valley? Again, look at the words most used in your genre. They are clichés for a reason. They work.
  9. Use testimonials. If you have some quotes from well-known writers or experts, use them. These are generally best in a block rather than scattered through the text. If you’ve got a quote from your Auntie Maureen, you might as well use that too. Just don’t reference her as your auntie.
  10. Make your characters live. As well as the story, it’s vital to get a good sense of your characters across – and, most importantly, their big problem. What terrible dilemma do they have to resolve? What personal demon do they need to conquer? You need characters and problems people will identify with – but they have to be big problems. Having a broken dishwasher just isn’t exciting enough.
  11. Make the reader desperate to know what happens. You have to end your description with a cliffhanger. You need to lead the reader to the point where they are so curious that, were they a cat, it would kill them. Make sure you don’t give too much away. Be intriguing. Make them feel like Anastasia when Christian tells her he’s about to show her something really new and exciting.  Make them go ‘Holy crap!’”

Thanks so much, Mark.

I would just add that the ability to edit your book description like this is a huge advantage self-publishers have over traditionally published books, which settle on a blurb quite early on that then gets passed along the lines to catalogues, retailers, etc. and to my knowledge, can’t be changed. But you can change yours as much as you like, and so continually experiment with what works and what doesn’t. And now that Mark has generously shared what does work, aren’t we all considering spending the weekend redrafting our product descriptions…?

If you want to know more, Mark has a free download for newsletter subscribers, Write the Perfect Book Description and Watch Sales Soar. You can find out more about Mark’s books, his journey to self-published (and published) success and how what he’s learned along the way can help you on his website, Indie HQ

50 Responses to “The 11 Ingredients of a Sizzling Book Description”

  1. MarinaSofia October 5, 2012 at 09:05 #

    Had to laugh at your book-smuggling antics. I’m just the same. I was over on a business trip to the UK this week but flew Easyjet (no luggage allowance), so had to curb my enthusiasm at the bookshop and buy a modest 5 books to carry back. Killed my shoulders, though!

  2. Clare Davidson October 5, 2012 at 10:08 #

    Great post. It makes me want to overhaul my blurb.

  3. Matt Knox October 5, 2012 at 10:20 #

    I love your tips, thanks

  4. rinellegrey October 5, 2012 at 10:52 #

    Great post. I think a book description is really important, but it’s SOOO hard to write! Think I will have to give mine an overhaul.

  5. Linda Acaster October 5, 2012 at 11:46 #

    Oh yes, there will be a lot of blurbs being overhauled now. Many thanks to you both for the post. Most helpful.

  6. Barbara Forte Abate October 5, 2012 at 12:35 #

    Great and very timely post. Might I add that this wisdom well applies to “Verbal Blurbs” of our books. Yesterday my local town librarian asked me what my new book is about and I proceeded to not only trip all over my tongue, but stomp kick and trample any semblance of intelligent thought. Dreadful doesn’t even begin to describe. So yeah, whatever genius description you compose for your back cover should be equally accessible from your mouth :-D

  7. Claude Nougat (@claudenougat) October 5, 2012 at 15:20 #

    So terribly important to get that damn blurb right, thanks for sharing the secrets! I’ve been wondering why people visit my book page by the hundreds and don’t buy my book, there must be something dreadfully, fatally wrong with that book description! …running now to see what I can do (yep, because I did write a masterpiece, pity no one know it!!

  8. Mark Edwards October 5, 2012 at 17:19 #

    Thanks everyone for your comments – glad you like the article. If anyone needs any help, you can contact me via IndieIq.com – I’m taking on a few new clients if you’re quick…

  9. Julia Hidy October 6, 2012 at 14:32 #

    Great post, Catherine! I really appreciated Mark’s 11 tips. He’s a genius! And you are Glenda in the Wizard of Oz for sharing them with us.

    I changed my second non-fiction book’s description twice in the middle of a KDP promo. When I woke up and realized that I wasn’t getting as many downloads as my first book, I rewrote it. I knew it might take 4 to 24 hours to post the new description, but I had to try. By 10 am, the new description went live. By noon, my book moved from the last book on the free list to the middle of the pack. That seemed respectable enough.

    At noon, I took another stab and re-wrote the blurb again. It was posted 3 hours later. By 7 pm, I was number 1 in KDP Free in six Self-help, Mind, Body & Spirit and Self-esteem categories in the U.S. and the U.K. – the two categories as listed, and four ‘larger categories’ with more ‘competition’ above them. I was giddy!

    Now, if readers will pay to read my titles, all will be well in my world! Author friends say that will come. Guess readers want to know ‘who’ they’ll be reading before they commit. Mark’s post reminded me to continue to ‘tweak’ and refine my descriptions even now.

    I smiled about your shoulder-denting carry on. I’m guilty too! I usually get there OK. But from Cancun or the Caribbean home, they’d insist on weighing both pieces. I finally figured out to not pay cash and only by credit card. The reps all looked too darn happy to see me arrive with a deep dent in my shoulder. They were far less happy once I paid by credit card. And yes, my bags were stuffed with books and writer’s things. I’ll be zenning for you to return without any charges. Think that your bag is ‘as light as a feather…’

    Have a GREAT and productive sojourn! Gosh, I can smell the pain au chocolate and good coffee wafting out of the cafe now!

    May your words flow, the coffee be strong and hot, and your walks and people watching be charming and memorable. May you find fuel for the fires you’ll tend in your next books…

    Joi ectrit! Et bon vacance!

  10. gatsbyscar October 8, 2012 at 22:22 #

    A playwright once made me sit down and write a review for my own opening night. Once you know what you want people to say about it you will find it easier to give them what they want!

    • GoodGravyBoat May 29, 2013 at 14:39 #

      Nice suggestion!

  11. Turndog Millionaire October 9, 2012 at 07:10 #

    I have been using Mark’s Book Descrpition Book and boy has it helped.

    As I have yet to launch, I can’t say how good or bad my blurb is. However, I do think it’s a GIGANTIC improvement to what it was before. I certainly have Mark to thank…so…thank you Mark :)

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  12. Hello from me to you October 14, 2012 at 12:43 #

    Reblogged this on hello from me to you.

  13. Simon J October 15, 2012 at 09:44 #

    Great post. I will review my book blurb today and start working it up to a better standard

    • wadage October 15, 2012 at 13:54 #

      I need all the inspiration, advice and tips I can get, the road to publishing is daunting and overwhelming at the best of time. I will keep at the blurb and refind it/

  14. cjlangley May 29, 2013 at 14:41 #

    Reblogged this on Abbey Lynn Langley and commented:
    A great article on how to write a compelling book description!

  15. Monique Happy July 1, 2013 at 21:40 #

    Reblogged this on Monique Happy: Writer, Editor, Blogger and commented:
    Book Descriptions: How important are they? Well, they’re the first thing a potential customer sees, other than your cover.

  16. Binko June 18, 2014 at 06:16 #

    Great tips. However, I disagree with the post about referencing famous writers. To me, this just smacks of trying to associate yourself with other, more accomplished writers. I believe that many people read those kinds of references in the same way. It comes across as clunky and amateurish to me.

    • catherineryanhoward June 25, 2014 at 09:06 #

      I think it depends how you do it, Binko. Traditional publishers use phrases like ‘will appeal to fans of X and Y’ all the time. What annoys me though is ‘in the style of’… When I see that on a book, I DO think it’s destined to be a poor imitation. It just comes down to the wording, I suppose, and whether or not you have the chops to back it up. (And Mark, being in the Top 10 on Amazon so often he should be paying them rent, definitely does.)

  17. Joshua M Swenson October 17, 2014 at 21:55 #

    Great suggestions! Thanks for sharing!

  18. James Jean-Pierre November 15, 2014 at 09:38 #

    Really liked the post. I also like that the two of you can put yourselves in the post and not be dull. Thanks a lot.

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